CMT Music Awards: Meet the new generation
There are country singers — and then there are country superstars. These Nashville newcomers have what it takes to make the transition to icon status.
OK, so Eric Church isn't exactly a newcomer to country music. The North Carolina–born singer has been on our radars since 2005, but he didn't experience mainstream success until the 2011 release of his album Chief.
"I distinctly remember playing for eight people in Amarillo, Texas, four years ago," Church said while picking up his award at the 2012 CMA Awards. "I spent a lot of my career wondering where I fit in — too country, too rock. I want to thank you guys for giving me somewhere to hang my hat tonight."
However, Church's rise to the top hasn't been without scandal. The "Homeboy" singer was criticized for some comments he made about fellow country singer Blake Shelton in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview.
"Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green f***ing turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That's crazy I don't know what would make an artist do that. You're not an artist," he said, referring to Shelton on The Voice.
"If I was concerned about my legacy, there's no f***ing way I would ever sit there."
Shelton's wife, Miranda Lambert, didn't take too well to that.
"Thanks Eric Church for saying I'm not a real artist," she tweeted to her former tour mate. "Or @kelly_clarkson, @carrieunderwood & @KeithUrban. You're welcome for the tour in 2010."
You might not be familiar with Kacey Musgraves yet, but you will be. The 2007 winner of Nashville Star is being called Nashville's next big thing, thanks to songs like "Merry Go 'Round" and "Blowin' Smoke." She even co-wrote Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart."
"When something comes to my brain, I don't ignore it. You never know what it's going to turn into," she told HitFix of writing music. "Maybe half the time they're sh** and nothing comes of it, but if I hadn't written it down... writing gives me a high like nothing else."
Her exploding popularity isn't necessarily something she wants, though.
"It's setting me up for a little bit of pressure," she added. "I'm not just in it to be the fastest and highest, I want to be an Emmylou [Harris] or Patty Griffin... On one hand, it's amazing that I'm thought of that way, but on the other hand, it's really scary for me. There are things that are lifelong [dreams] that are happening."
Nashville newcomer Jana Kramer is no stranger to the spotlight. The former One Tree Hill and Friday Night Lights star made her country debut in 2012 with her self-titled debut album and single "Why Ya Wanna?"
If that's not enough, she's now half of one of Nashville's rising power couples: She's engaged to singer Brantley Gilbert!
"At first, people thought she was bad for me, but what you see is what you get," Gilbert told SheKnows of the 29-year-old singer. "Everybody's told her that they haven't seen anything but me working harder since we've been together. She's definitely an inspiration and a motivation. She's my best friend and my hardest critic. If I write something she doesn't think is all that great, she'll tell me."
Miranda Lambert might be an insanely successful solo artist, but that doesn't mean she looks at her work with Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe as a side project.
"We say our A&R guy, his name's Jesus Christ," Lambert told Billboard of the Pistol Annies. "He brought us together, and he gave us the songs, and the time to spend with each other, and the music drives what we do."
The trio met a few years ago through songwriting, and the evolution into performing progressed from there.
"Ashley and Miranda had co-written a few songs that didn't really fit on their solo albums and they didn't know what to do with them, but they didn't want to give them away because they were great songs," Presley told Taste of Country. "Ashley played Miranda some of my music and she loved it and they called me at two o'clock in the morning, forced me out of bed and made me email them my whole record and that's all she wrote."
Their just-released album, Annie Up, is less about hell-raising and more about their blissful family lives.
"When we were doing the first record, what we had in common was our raising, what we loved, where we were from," Lambert told The Tennessean. "Now, the thing we have most in common is our home lives or our relationships. We're all living in it like normal women, so it's destined to come out."
The Band Perry
The Band Perry might be new on the music scene, but they've actually been together since birth — they're family, after all.
"It's just the three of us," Kimberly Perry told The Huffington Post in 2011. "We always talked about how we kinda wished our parents would have planned a little better because we certainly could have used a drummer, a fiddle player, you know, some other siblings onstage."
Well, it's working out with just the three of them: Their second album, Pioneer, is already a hit — as is the lead single off the album, "Better Dig Two."
Florida Georgia Line
College buddies Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley are the very definition of an overnight success. The duo — better known as Florida Georgia Line — only signed their first big record deal a year ago. In that year, they've had two No. 1 singles ("Cruise" and "Get Your Shine On") and a gold-selling album.
Now they're embarking on a summer tour with another country superstar, Luke Bryan.
"It's going to be awesome," they told SheKnows in 2012. "We're going to go out there and rock out. He's a cool dude."
Louisiana-born Hunter Hayes was born to perform. The 22-year-old "Wanted" singer started his music career at age 2 and quickly racked up talk show appearances from Maury to Rosie O'Donnell's former daytime show. He finally signed with Atlantic Records Nashville in 2007, and he released his self-titled debut album in 2011.
Now he's performed with everyone from Rascal Flatts to Carrie Underwood — and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"The stage is my comfort zone, and playing live is what I've always wanted to do. It's why I want to do two hundred dates a year," he told Esquire. "I wouldn't feel that way if I were nervous onstage. These days, we play a two-and-a-half-hour headlining show. We have a song with a twenty-minute outro on it. Things evolve and I love that."
And he's still humble, despite his success.
"I'm blessed to be surrounded by people who support me that way," Hayes told SheKnows in 2012. That's huge. It's amazing."
Love and Theft
Fans might know Love and Theft from their hit songs like 2011's "Angel Eyes," but Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson are still making their names in Nashville.
"I've met [Brantley Gilbert] like five times, and every time he's like, 'nice to meet you' and it's getting annoying," Liles joked to SheKnows earlier this year.
Pretty sure that's about to change, guys.
"Cowboys and Angels" singer Dustin Lynch is the consumate performer — maybe because he learned from the best.
"At first I wanted to be Santa’s elf [laughs]... and then I wanted to be Garth Brooks," the Tennessee native told Cowboys & Indians in 2012. "I think somewhere in there, I wanted to be a trash man, too. But Garth — he was just an icon. He was my superhero."
Lucky for us, he chose to follow Garth's path. The singer with the million-dollar smile released his self-titled album in 2012 and has been pumping out the hit songs left and right. And get ready to hear more of Lynch on the radio this summer: His latest single, "Wild in Your Smile," was just released in May.